Letters of Ted Hughes – ed. Christopher Reid/Faber
Finally! Moving, passionate, angry, funny, striking, brilliant and beautiful beyond belief, the collected letters of one of our greatest poets have now taken pride of place on my bedside table, and may, I suspect, be a permanent addition to the pile. They are extraordinary. For too long Hughes – who is also revealed here as an impassioned pioneer of the environmentalist movement – has suffered under the prying, accusatory eyes of those who would blame him for the successive suicides of Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevill; a prime example of what happens when biographical speculation gets in the way of objective appreciation of artistic genius. Not that this collection, magnificently edited by Christopher Reid, shies away from that tragic period of Hughes’ life. ‘I was the only person who could have helped her’, he writes bleakly, of Plath, to his sister, ‘and the only person so jaded by her states and demands that I could not recognise when she really needed it.’ Highly recommended.
I am also enjoying: Three Victories and a Defeat – Brendan Simms/Allen Lane, a fascinating look at the uneasy historical relationship between Britain and Europe; Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain – Oliver Sacks, Picador, which tackles a subject I am personally obsessed by, i.e. what happens to human brains when they process music; The Triumph of the Political Class – Peter Oborne, Simon & Schuster, which argues that the age of mass participatory democracy anchored in political parties is beyond us, having being replaced by an all-powerful ‘political class’. I’m not sure I entirely agree with him, but I’m loving the argument! I’ve also just picked up the paperback edition of Lorenzo Da Ponte: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Man Behind Mozart – Rodney Bolt/Bloomsbury because it deals with another obsession of mine, Mozart opera!
If you can get in, I urge you to go and see the revival of Patrick Marber’s debut play Dealer’s Choice, directed by Samuel West at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Although this brilliant production is in fact transferring to the West End soon (Trafalgar Studios) the original venue is charming and complements the play (which is nominally about poker, but, typically of Marber, also deals with the emotional tension of human relationships) so well, it is worth begging for returns. Over the next few days I am also off to see Swimming With Sharks, which stars my friend Matt Smith (from Party Animals) alongside Christian Slater, Macbeth, of which I have heard intriguingly mixed reviews, and Fernando Arrabal’s The Car Cemetery, directed by the excellent Natalie Abrahami at The Gate – another one of my favourite fringe theatres in London.
Declaring my interest, I am going to recommend Party Animals: Complete BBC Series 1, the slick, pacy drama set behind the scenes of Westminster. Dubbed ‘This Life-meets-The-West-Wing’, Party Animals is perfect TV for anyone interested in the real drama of British politics and the young, dynamic characters – researchers, lobbyists, journos – that make the whole Westminster machine tick.
I was quietly amazed by Renaissance Siena: Art for a City at the National Gallery; it is always fascinating, from a historical/social/cultural perspective to look at the art coming out of one specific place at one specific time, and oh, what a place, what a time! Like Matt D’Ancona, I am also obsessed with the The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army at the British Museum (having first seen them in situ in Xi’an, China, a few years ago). Similarly, I find myself wanting to return again and again to the Walter Sickert: Camden Town Nudes exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. I have always found the series of prostitutes Sickert painted in the early twentieth century incredibly moving and, despite their muted tones and poignant subject matter, somehow luminously, desolately beautiful. With overtones of Bonnard, Bacon and Freud, they are a luscious, if occasionally disturbing, feast for the senses, and I am delighted therefore to be able to view so many in one place (not to mention the fact that the Courtauld is one of London’s loveliest galleries and a great spot, if the winter sun holds, to grab a coffee on the terrace and admire the sparkling view down the river).
Sigur Ross – Hvart/Heim
The ethereal music of these Icelandic rockers is almost impossible to describe, but it gets under your skin and into your soul in a most spine-tingling way. I have the first album and I love this – it’s gone straight on the iPod and was invaluable when I was stuck on a tube in rush hour this morning, providing instant calm.
Vivaldi Cello Concertos – Sol Gabetta, Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca (Sony, 13.99)
I am a sucker for new baroque recordings and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. Playing with ‘authentic’ baroque strings and bow, this Argentinian cellist delivers such Latin pizzazz to the gorgeous cello concertos that I didn’t even feel aggrieved (as a violinist) when she hijacked the Four Seasons and the A minor Violin Concerto. Thrilling.